Port of Fort Smith to see first new construction in 37 years

by Aric Mitchell (aric.mitchell@gmail.com) 481 views 

An example of some of the steel product handled by Five Rivers Distribution from its operations

The Fort Smith Port Authority passed two resolutions on Friday (Dec. 1) that will pave the way for the first new construction at the Port of Fort Smith since 1980.

The Port Authority received four bids for concrete work on a new bulk storage facility at the 200 Navy Road site, with the lowest bid of $366,431 coming from Cameron Hubbs Construction of Van Buren. For building materials and construction, Legacy Building Solutions, also of Van Buren, beat out one other competitor with a low bid of $348,500.

The combined contract amount of $714,931 joins with what Five Rivers Distribution already has spent on the project – “a little over $160,000” for foundational work and engineering costs, according to company president Marty Shell – to bring the total in line with the estimated $885,000 figure shared at a Port Authority meeting in early November.

Five Rivers Distribution secured a $584,000 grant on behalf of the public Port of Fort Smith. The funding goes toward the $885,000 tally for the 30,000-square foot facility. The matching grant’s stipulation provides $531,000 from the Arkansas Waterways Commission in return for a 10% match, or $53,000, which was paid previously by Five Rivers Distribution. Assuming Five Rivers Distribution is unable to secure the next round of grant funding, there will be an unpaid balance of around $141,000 that Shell has agreed to pick up. However, he will be eligible to apply for a second grant in 2018.

The Arkansas Waterways Commission money is from the “ad valorem tax the state receives from out-of-state companies and businesses that use our barges,” Shell told Talk Business & Politics.

“The fund had about $1.1 million, and we received $531,000 of that. It’s not Arkansas taxpayer dollars, but barge users who are out-of-state businesses that traverse through the state. That money (the $531,000) was going to be spent somewhere in the state, so it’s good that we brought it back to spend it here.”

With approval from the Authority secured, Shell hopes to move construction along and have the building in use by February 2018. The Authority is an instrument to promote, develop, construct, equip, maintain and operate ports, harbors, river-rail, or barge terminals for the city of Fort Smith.

“It’s really not the revenue so much (driving construction). It’s that if I don’t build it, the chances of our customers going other places are high, because then someone else will provide them the warehouse space. This is to keep existing revenue, but to also grow future tonnage on our waterways,” Shell said.

In a previous interview with Talk Business & Politics, Shell said he could have built the facility at Van Buren, which “I already have (five buildings), and they are full. But I’ve been promising something in Fort Smith forever, and for me, it’s personal. My father started the port of Fort Smith in 1970, and it hasn’t had a build since 1980. Here we are in 2017, and I’m tired of people saying the Port of Fort Smith doesn’t have any life. I want to show that we’ve still got value in this facility. It’s been a long hard fight and I want to see it completed.”

The Port of Fort Smith has two 40,000 square-foot steel buildings used for bulk product storage. There also is an off-site facility Five Rivers Distribution owns a few blocks away that is 17,000 square feet.

“This will be a state-of-the-art bulk storage building — nicest of the nicest you can have for the city of Fort Smith, the Fort Smith Port Authority, and Five Rivers Distribution,” Shell said.

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